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Remarks at White House Conference on Connecting the Americas

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Commerce Secretary John Bryson
Remarks at White House Conference on Connecting the Americas

Thank you Cecilia. Thanks to everyone at the Domestic Policy Council. And thanks also to Eric Farnsworth at the Council of the Americas.

Welcome to this important Conference on Connecting the Americas. It’s a pleasure to see business and community leaders from across the country.

As you heard, I am from Southern California. It’s where I worked for nearly two decades as a CEO of Southern California Edison and Edison International. And it’s where my wife Louise and I raised our four girls. Both at my company and across the greater Los Angeles region, I saw the daily major contributions made by Hispanic business leaders, workers and families. It’s abundantly clear that this wonderful diversity is a powerful force in our economy.

The Census Bureau, an arm of the Commerce Department does a Survey of Business Owners every five years. From 2002 to 2007, sales at Hispanic-owned businesses grew by 55 percent to $350 billion. This year we are doing that every-five-year survey again, and there can be little doubt across our country that it will show continued growth.

But it’s much more than that. The fact is, people and cultures from throughout the Western Hemisphere are part of the story of America. President Obama understands this.  That’s why he is going to Colombia tomorrow for the Summit of the Americas. Everyone here today understands it, too.

We have put together a great day, and I want to thank you in advance for your contributions to the dialogue. I think that the discussions will revolve around two general themes:

First, we need to ensure a strong foundation here at home. I’ll give three examples.

We need to make sure college is more affordable and accessible for everyone Already, the administration has increased the top Pell Grant sizes from $900 to over $5,000.
We need to make sure that our entrepreneurs and business owners get the tools they need to succeed. And I know that we just had a record year in SBA lending, as Administrator Mills can attest.

And we need to make sure that our workers can get the training they need to land good jobs. This includes major efforts like the proposed Community-College-to-Career Fund.

A second major theme of today–which builds on that–is to strengthen our economic ties throughout the Americas. Again, I’ll give some examples:

We need to build on the record year we just had of $2.1 trillion in U.S. exports. We have new trade agreements in the pipeline for Colombia and Panama, as Ambassador Kirk can confirm.

We need to ensure that our private sector can play a strong role in infrastructure growth abroad. It’s clear that U.S. businesses can help with everything from roads to energy – to help lift people out of poverty and into the middle class.

We need to encourage companies throughout the Americas to see the value of investing here in the U.S. Through the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA initiative–strongly supported by the president–we’re doing just that.

Finally, we need to address challenges that all countries share, like climate change and global security.

Above all, I strongly believe that we must do everything possible to strengthen person-to-person relationships. That’s the key to our success.

Earlier this week, we had a powerful example that. Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff came, and I led a meeting of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum. We discussed how we can partner in industries like aviation to build on our record year of over $100 billion in bilateral trade. We also talked about bringing more students from Brazil to come and study in the U.S.–a goal that both Presidents share. And, of course, we talked about how our countries can work together to support the Brazil 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Now, it may not surprise you to know that I will not be competing in the World Cup, however, I am pleased to say that I will be going on my first-ever trip to Brazil this fall for the next U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum Meeting.

We need more of those interactions. And that’s why the work that we do together–including the work you do here today–is so important.

Together, we can help build more bridges throughout the Americas. Together, we can take those next steps to promote greater prosperity and more jobs. And together, we can ensure an even brighter future for people throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Thank you all for being here, and I’ll turn the floor over to Dan Restrepo of the National Security Staff, who serves as Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Thank you.